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Third woman testifies against Army’s top sergeant

July 2, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Was the female petty officer being reprimanded by her male superior for telling a dirty joke or was she being subjected to an improper sexual advance?

Those are the two contradictory versions of one of the incidents at the heart of the sexual harassment case against the Army’s top enlisted man.

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Johnna Vinson claims the incident was sexual and improper, made by Army Sgt. Maj. Gene McKinney in a hotel lobby. McKinney’s attorney says it was a dressing down.

Four women have accused McKinney of improper advances over the past two years, and an Army panel has been listening to testimony at Fort McNair this week to determine whether McKinney should be court-martialed.

The Army’s chief investigator, Jeff Hormann, was scheduled to testify today.

Vinson, the third woman to testify, clashed repeatedly Tuesday with Charles Gittins, McKinney’s civilian attorney.

Vinson said she met McKinney last August when he attended a conference in Denver on health benefits.

On the third day of the meeting, she said McKinney asked her to meet him in the lobby of the conference hotel. As they stood there, she said McKinney looked her up and down and said, ``I like what I see.″

She said he invited her to go to his room where ``he’d show me passion like I’d never known.″

Under cross examination by Gittins, Vinson said she enjoyed sharing off-color jokes with friends. But she denied ever telling one to McKinney or in his presence.

Gittins asked her if she recalled that the reason McKinney wanted to talk to her in lobby was to upbraid her for telling off-color jokes in mixed company.

``No, never, no way,″ she said.

At one point, Vinson turned to Col. Robert Jarvis, the presiding officer, to protest Gittins’ line of questioning.

``How long are you going to allow this?″ she asked.

The defense lawyer had gone over details of her version of events and repeatedly asked her if she was as confident of her memory of them as she was of her version of what McKinney said to her.

He asked Vinson if she told an off-color joke in McKinney’s presence.

``No,″ she replied.

``You’re clear on that memory?″ he asked.

``Yes,″ she said.

``Are you as sure about your testimony about not telling jokes as you are about what Sergeant Major McKinney said to you?″ he asked.

``I am more sure,″ she responded.

Gittins went through the same pattern of questioning in regard to where she sat at lunch and whether there were any off-color remarks made at the table.

Vinson denied that when she met McKinney in the hotel lobby that they sat down. She insisted she was standing when they spoke and never sat down.

Once again Gittins asked if she was sure and then if she was as sure of that as of what she recalls McKinney said to her.

At that point she protested to Jarvis, who said he saw no point in Gittins pursuing that pattern on every detail.

During a break in the hearing, Gittins said he would present testimony from a witness who says she saw Vinson and McKinney sitting together in the lobby.

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